Archives for Coping
Ever since my dad passed away three months ago, my brain has been busy. Busy, cluttered, and disorganized. I've felt so mentally disorganized, in fact, that I've had a difficult time writing. (This probably isn't news to any of my regular readers who have noticed the lack of blog posts lately.) I have about seven half-written blog posts in my "drafts" folder that just...don't...make the cut. They're sloppy. They're scattered. And I, too, feel sloppy and scattered. I'm grieving the loss of my father, handling his estate (and by "handling", I mean "drowning in paperwork regarding"), and preparing for a brand new full-time job that starts...uhm, tomorrow. That's a lot of slop. And a lot of scatter.
A few days ago, I received the following letter in the mail from Blue Cross Blue Shield, addressed to my father: Dear Paul, Managing a chronic condition can feel overwhelming. I am here to help! We just learned that you recently saw your physician about a new or existing health condition. I've enclosed some information to help you learn more about the condition and ways to manage it. Enclosed was a handy booklet on heart disease, complete with cartoonish diagrams of the human heart and stock photos of sweatsuit-clad seniors doing yoga at the park. The letter continued: Together we can find ways to improve your health and your overall sense of well-being...I look forward to hearing from you. Sincerely, Susan Stevens, RN, BSN Back to the booklet now. On page five, a drawing of a "normal artery", which looks something like an enclosed waterslide, and a drawing of an "artery narrowed by plaque", which, based on the artwork alone, convinces me that "plaque" must be housefly larvae. Page 14? A photo of legumes, grapes, walnuts, and bell peppers. Not pictured: my father's favorite foods. Think peanuts, steak, and salty pretzels. And then, the kicker on page 24: aspirin. He took aspirin every day. "Honey," he'd tell me, "see this? See how I carry all of these baby aspirins in my pocket? You just never know."
Last night before bed, I found myself putzing around on my iPhone on my living room floor. It's a nightly thing: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit. Rinse and repeat if I'm still not sleepy. But I was caught off guard while scrolling mindlessly through my Facebook news feed -- suddenly, I felt the floor shake. Always on high alert, I jumped. What was that? After a moment or two of frozen uncertainty, I audibly exhaled when I realized the source of the shaking: a heavy diesel truck, barreling down my street.
"Just...just do it," she said, looking me straight in the eye. She wasn't a Nike spokesperson: She was my therapist, circa 2004, warning me against the dangers of agoraphobia. "Even if you feel panicky," she said, "Just go. Go out with that friend or this one. Go to the store. No matter how your body feels, just keep going. Don't cancel plans. It'll get worse in the long run if you do." Wise words. Did I always heed them? No.
It's no big secret or anything. Anxiety meds can make you sleepy. Like, really sleepy. From my bottle of Zoloft, an SSRI used to treat my panic disorder: "May cause drowsiness." From my bottle of Klonopin, a benzodiazapine my doc has me using to counter the anxiety that sometimes occurs while titrating an SSRI upward: "May cause drowsiness." Drowsiness achieved, people. Complete and utter drowsiness. So, how can I cope?
I love my blog readers. (Hey, that's you!) I read each and every one of your comments -- even though I don't always reply to each one. Your comments are very meaningful to me -- I empathize with your stories of shared suffering and shared recovery. I truly love reading them -- they make me feel far less alone! One recent comment on my blog post called "The Post-Holiday Slump: The Presence Of An Absence", became a bit "stickier" than most -- and I found myself thinking about it quite a bit over the past 24 hours. The blog post was about how January and February basically suck and feel super dreary in comparison to the brightness and happiness of the Christmas season. Putting away the tree and the lights creates a weird void in not only my living room (where the tree stood), but also in my gut. The commenter pointed out my lack of positivity.
We live our lives through metaphor after metaphor. Now, don't let the word "metaphor" scare you. It might sound familiar -- perhaps from your high school English class -- or maybe you've never heard it at all. I like the definition from Englishforums.com: A metaphor is a situation (generally a literary situation) in which the unfamiliar is expressed in terms of the familiar. A situation in which the unfamiliar is expressed in terms of the familiar -- say, a foggy brain or a heart of gold. Fog and gold are simple and familiar concepts. They're easy to picture. And so, we use them to describe slightly more unfamiliar concepts -- in these examples, the unclear thinking that might come after a hard day's work (brain fog), or a person who is incredibly good-natured and giving (heart of gold). Metaphors can also be expressed (and defined) more simply. They're a comparison without the word "like" or "as". Here are a few examples off the top of my head: War is hell. Banana cream pie is orgasmic. Love is a garden. His brain is a machine. Time is money. We know love isn't really a garden -- it's an abstract concept. But, in order to make it more concrete, we compare it to something that's easily to understand. You can plant the seeds of love. If you water your garden (nurture your love), it will grow. ANXIETY AS A METAPHOR But I'm not here to drone on and on about metaphor. (Hmm -- was there a metaphor in that sentence? Did I just make a metametaphor?) I'm here, as usual, to talk about anxiety. Let's see what kind of metaphor you use to describe anxiety. Fill in the blank: anxiety is ______________.
Feeling sick? You're probably not alone. It's that sneez-y, cough-y, mucus-y time of year. Delicious! So, if you're anything like me, you have an anxiety disorder and you hate being sick. In fact, maybe being sick in and of itself elevates your anxiety level. Throw some cold meds into the equation and you might really end up feeling bonkers. Medicines for cold and flu can be very powerful, and the side effects of their active ingredients can sometimes include disconcerting side effects, like dizziness or wooziness. (Think Sudafed, for example.) And that sucks. Because getting relief for a cold is awesome...unless the price for that "relief" is more than a tablespoon of anxiety. In yesterday's post, I wrote about how I often take smaller doses of OTC cold medication than the bottle recommends. The meds still end up working (to a degree), and save me from some of the side effect-related anxiety. But what if you're too scared to take any cold meds? Are you doomed to suffer?
'Tis the season, I suppose, for phlegm-y illnesses. Today, one of my most-read blog posts is this: "Cold Meds Got You Anxious? Know Your Ingredients!" It's a must-read for those of you who: have an anxiety disorder plan on getting at least a head cold before winter's end tend to react with heightened sensitivity to medicines I'm a huge advocate of understanding what you're putting into your body -- whether it be food, meds, or whatever else. I ask my doctors a billion questions every time they prescribe me a new drug, and I'm one to "test" new meds in a safe place (i.e., my home) to gauge my body's reaction before I begin taking them as directed. CONTROL OVER ANXIETY And why? As I'd mentioned in the above-linked post, understanding your body's reaction to a medicine gives you a sense of calming control: ...[G]etting to know the ingredients in your cold medicine gives you a greater sense of control over your illness. Knowing the effect that a specific medicine has on your body can be comforting — instead of attributing a mild sense of wooziness to an impending panic attack, wouldn’t it be nice to sit back and say with confidence that you KNOW diphenhydramine (an antihistamine) makes you feel this way? You know it’s the medicine, and it might be uncomfortable — but it doesn’t signify anything. Isn’t that a comforting thought? If you get to know how each of these ingredients personally affects your body, you can more easily come to terms with how they make you feel. I won't rehash the entire article for you here, but my intention today is sort of similar -- instead of talking about which cold med ingredients have certain physiological effects, I'm going to talk about ways you can reduce anxiety when you're feeling sick.
I’ve always loved a good puzzle game. As a kid, I could play Dr. Mario on my NES for hours. Math and word puzzles were right up my alley as well, and on long car rides, you could find me with my nose in a puzzle book, busily hunting through word search grids. My panic attacks began in college, and to cope with my high level of pre-bedtime anxiety, I found myself using puzzle games as a method of distraction. First, it was those word scrambles from the newspaper. Then, in grad school, I met Sudoku. If smartphones were a thing back when I was in school, I’m sure I would have happily tossed the newspaper into the recycling bin in favor of using a shiny little handheld device that does all the things. All I had then was a flip phone with a trial version of Tetris. Before that, I lugged around a very solid-looking Nokia. The best game on that clunker? Snake. And now? I have every game at my fingertips – and, while convenient, it’s a little overwhelming. There are so many – well, too many -- puzzle games to choose from in the iTunes app store. Which ones seem to work best at quelling my anxiety at the end of the day?